Category Archives: Theoretical

writers, books, theory

Compromising with Control and Power

Despite my reading and critical reflection on management tools, at the end of the day I still have a day-job and I am responsible for projects. Projects funded by donors and agreements that specify outputs and outcomes in exchange for the money. I am under no illusions that the arrangement is far from pure or ideal, and I do my best to introduce humanity and good values into the project cycles I am responsible for. I try to be the layer between the community and the corporate demands.

Yet with a growing programme things are getting to big for me to do myself, I need a team. One team member is doing a great job, probably better than me. The other team members see themselves, not as called, but employees. They have a different work ethic, they have a lack of exposure and their productivity is not just adversely affected by skills and knowledge, but more-so by attitude. It seems few people can mix friendship and freedom with productivity.

As Project Manager, I have to justify money spent and what the results of short term projects were. The project design is compromised, but certain specifics are built in to buy time and space so real development can happen. Meaning, to provide stimulus, you ‘sell’ a basic project that is uncomplicated and unlikely to do harm. This superficial design creates a platform for real relationships to grow and for individuals to discover themselves and grow.  In this game, you have to do the basics with excellence. My subordinates did not manage to do this, more concerned with talking and image that producing results. I tried friendship and freedom, they did not respond. Due to short time cycles of evaluation, I could not tolerate continued slackness. So I did what all managers at some stage do and I embraced the very elements of the system I hate. I resorted to using money and contracts as motivators. I introduced weekly written reports. As a manager it was the right thing to do. I have a responsibility towards the money and contracts. Simple.

Philosophically, the compromised turned my calling into a job even more. I became a bit less human and a bit more resource. I embraced my title of manager. I affirmed my power over my team. I exchanged exploration and deconstructing defiance for rigidity and control. Once you signed the contract, you can try to play the game, but integrity requires compliance. If you dont like the system, you need to take the fight higher, you need to be in dialogue with the source of the money. Managers and coordinators are trapped in a cycle where they get paid to manage and coordinate each other.

Here in my blog, and hopefully one day in my further studies, I am the idealist, the voice of reason in a silly system. But I am also an employee who is forced to compromise. If I don’t want to compromise I have to resign, and that at this stage will not lead to the greatest good. In my work, governed by the power lines of linear managerialism I sometimes cause dishonesty, pain, theft, regret, inferiority. I am the cause of things I hate.

My dream is that one day, I will have a job where I would get paid to do the right things in the right way. My hunch is that I would have to create an organisation and a movement that would enable such. With a dominant system too strong to change, we can only strive to be a) a good example b) create exemplary organisations and lastly hope to spark new movements.

For now, I have to deal with living in a paradox, living a contradictory life. I wonder what the cost and effect will be to me?

Who are you?

So often we meet someone and they ask us: “So, what do you do?” and I think it’s a useless and even destructive question, which in future, will meet my answer: “I’ll tell you what I do if you tell me who you are?”

Why is this important? Because, questions inform conversations and conversations en up informing budgets. And, we all know budgets make the world go round. Therefore, I don’t fight the budget, I rather resist the question that informs the discourse that prescribe the policies that direct the budget. Our sickness of evaluating doing over being has hollowed out the wealthy west and it is being forced onto millions of Africans who will trade their life for pragmatism and shallow cleverness, characterised by buzzwords like transparency and accountability, driven by cheap acronyms and lengthy reports written by academics who know nothing of life.

The Bodily Trap of Poverty: Castle, Pap and Puta

There is bad luck, then there is our reaction to that bad luck.

The so called trap or cycle of poverty is not about the actual bad luck or unfortunate circumstances, but in the way we respond to it by dulling the heart and mind and moving into a life, dominated by our bodies.
Sex makes us feel powerful when really we are powerless, beer makes us forget what should not be forgotten and food gives us a feeling of fullness to ignore a deep emptiness. In sex, food and beer men satisfy their heart, body and mind- cheaply, immediately, sadly.

In this state, apathy rules. Yet, when confronted with the success or ambition of a peer, the hidden soul peeps out to slander, gossip or complain. The desire for unity or cooperation is long gone and the impulse towards change has withered.
The trust in hope, and the hope in trust have made way for resentment and self-pity.

Yet, the eating, drinking and fucking goes on… it dampens the hurt of the hungry heart.

Mini Review of Mini Book

Robert Greene’s Concise 48 Laws of Power

I read the 195 small pages of the concise version and I’m very grateful for that choice, since this little book contains so much nonsense and such diverse themes with contradictory advice that a larger or more comprehensive version of it, might have prevented me from finishing it! Nevertheless, I gained and learnt much from it, I gained because the content drips with reality and applied knowledge. The ideas and advice is applicable and implementable; the readers only choice is whether to take and employ the advice or not.

This choice boils down, for me, to a decision of whether you view yourself as a human or an animal. Clever people will immediately say we are both, and Greene constantly uses the phrase ‘human animal’, but that emphasises the animal side. The debate about to what extent we are animals is not really the issue though, the question is, when we employ metaphors and set moral and ethical ideals, do we construct these ideals to become the smarted animals or the best humans? So, never mind genetics and evolutionary history, we are faced with choices where we can act like animals or humans. Personally, I fully recognise my animal nature, and that is why in theory, reflection and ideals, I have to go 100% towards being a human being. Just because I have teeth does not mean I have to bite other people.

I found the book helpful for a few reasons. Greene reveals and promotes sneaky tricks to get to the top, and just as we find it disgusting, we discover chapters that act as mirrors, we discover how we learnt to automatically do many of these clever and manipulative tricks and strategies! Society and experience taught us to play the power game. Greene makes the pensive reader aware that we all play the game to some extent. The book leaves you with a choice: do I try to stop the tricks and live an alternative innocent naive life, or do I become a master tactician in the games of power.   We live in a power jungle, and to some extent you need jungle law in the jungle- or you die. Followers of the New Testament Jesus (and I don’t mean church going christians) might find the predicament more acute. How sincere, how naive should we be and does naivety equal sincerity? If I think of Jesus, he played many social games: the silence before Pilate, the answering questions with questions, the naughty metaphors of turning cheeks, the embarrassment of writing in sand… Jesus was constantly playing people. Yet there was a grounded purpose to his games and it was not popularity, it was didactical and strategic. Innocent like a dove, sneaky like a snake: wow, hardcore cutting edge advice, 2000 years ago. It is not easy to operate in the grey, we are addicted to black or white answers, we are addicted to the creation of opposites; it makes us feel clever and in control.

Greene, thought he is writing an assured money maker, by providing selfish people with ammunition to trample on others. Yet, as was the case with Machiaveli, he supposes such a hyperbole of unpretentious animality that his ‘tricks of the trade’ manual, becomes a profound philosophical workshop, an ethical shakeout. I’ve been reading one law each day, for 48 days. I did this as ‘bible study’ and the irony is, by reading such a dirty little bible, it did a splendid job of reverse psychology, increasing my hunger for unselfish goodness. Sure, I picked up many tricks along the journey and if I can stay grounded or rooted, I will do well to implement many of these tools, not because Im in a war against others, but because I need to influence people addicted to silly rhythms and beliefs. THe tool can be the key to unlock a door, then friendship and love will be the actual door we walk through to explore the rooms of deeper life.

I would definitely advise the little book, for naive people to sharpen up, and for sneaky people to reevaluate their moral stance.

48 Laws of Power
48 Laws of Power

Futeco as Heterotopia

Michel Foucault (1) in 1967 wrote an unpublished article entitled “Des Espace Autres” (2) whereby he introduced the concept of heterotopias. In this reflection I want to make that obscure article plainly accessible and relate its relevance to a space in the Mozambican town of Manica, a space called Futeco Park (3) (hereafter Futeco). Both Foucault and I, for different reasons focus on multiplicity, a desanctification of homogenous spaces, both geographic and philosophical. Foucault holds that we live in a ‘epoch of space’ which is an “…epoch of simultaneity: we are in the epoch of juxtaposition, the epoch of near and far, of the side by side, of the dispersed.” Time has changed space, partly due to air travel and internet and partly due to demystification of thought. I will now relate Foucault’s ideas of heterotopias, then apply that to Futeco and lastly explore learning (as opposed to teachings) for the world of so called ‘development’.

A preliminary reading of Foucault might be intimidating or frustrating for a popular audience and it is important to take his vague sentences and ensure that our commentary illuminates its idea in simple language and not to enthral his notions in further obscurity by employing pretentious linguistic metaphor. At the heart of Foucault’s argument lies the notion that relations are a more valid term of reference than the construction and dichotomised allocation of actual space. If this sounds confusing it is a result of my inability to articulate: simply put, the idea of space or place is very important but what makes it important is how it affects and is affected by our relationships, with each other, with things, with history and with ourselves. Society through its relational frameworks give meaning to space, and that obviously changes over time as society and culture itself changes. “We do not live in a homogenous and empty space” is how Foucault would express this. Furthermore, he states that “The space in which we live, which draws us out of ourselves, in which the erosion of our lives, our time and our history occurs, the space that claws and gnaws at us, is also, in itself, a heterogeneous space.” In this simple explanation lies the crux of his concept of heterotopias, a big ‘koeksister’ of a word for a simple idea.

By illustrating how Futeco is a heterotopia, the very concept of a heterotopia will become clear. Futeco is significant for a few reasons. It is not a mere public space, it is a heterotopia, a form of realised utopia (a dream) that influences other spaces through the tension of its existence in a contradictory stance towards normative architectural and ideological expressions. Heterotopias are “counter-sites, a kind of effectively enacted utopia in which the real sites, all the other real sites that can be found within the culture, are simultaneously represented, contested, and inverted.” Besides this explanation, Foucault uses the image of a mirror to explain the function of a heterotopia, a real reflection of reality that affects reality. These mirrors or heterotopias, find expression in all cultures.

Foucault mentions a few principles of heterotopias, and I will highlight these as they apply to Futeco. Traditionally, heterotopias involved forms of psychological crisis or trauma and included, from the place of ‘deflowering’ on honeymoon, to boarding schools, prisons and retirement homes. All these places were reflections of reality to accommodate people who had difficulty in normal society. In Manica, Futeco addresses a crisis of poverty, broken-families, recreational infrastructure, economic empowerment, cross-cultural interaction and lack of education; all of which are legacies of colonialism and civil war. Secondly, as is already apparent from the above example, a heterotopia can have multiple functions that can change over time. What starts as a space to play sport can grow into a learning space and eventually become an environmental conservation project that incorporates social enterprise! Thirdly, the heterotopia is a reflection of many things, it has “superimposed meanings” and represents diverse institutions at the same time, just like a cinema or a garden. Futeco, with its football fields, become the local theatre for young gladiators to express themselves regardless of surrounding poverty. Futeco also contrasts the sterility of the typical classroom at public schools with an open space where learning can take place. Another characteristic is that heterotopias represents unique periods or moments in time, which Foucault call heterochronies (different times). A simple example is a museum or library that tries to capture the past in a present location. Futeco is juxtaposed by the main clubhouse of GDM, whereas the clubhouse has a historical link and remembrance, Futeco is aimed at a future expression, the two sites being three kilometres apart and the old in the town centre, but the new on the outskirts, drawing the town and the people out to grow and explore. A Fifth principle of heterotopias is the idea of passage, of opening and closing. Unlike a normal public space, like the park in the town centre, Futeco is accessible through certain rites and conditions: belonging to a football team, coming to play or learn, coming in to do volunteer work, being an adepto of GDM. The space is public and private at the same time. Lastly, heterotopias comments on other real spaces. This happens through a illusionary or symbolic commentary on other real spaces and Futeco does that and to a degree is an ideal or utopian vision, but heterotopias can also be alternative real spaces, that meets needs that our current spaces do not address sufficiently and again Futeco serves this purpose. Futeco thus meets all six principles that Foucault lays out as characteristic of heterotopias.

Next to Futeco Park is a cemetery. Easily observable in the irony of its massive trees and overgrown bush. Futeco Park has as one of its objectives the protection of nature and the conservation of natural habitat. Ironically, in the town of Manica, it is the living spaces of living people that kills nature and flora, whilst the cemetery is the only sight where trees are not cut, and the cemetery becomes a gigantic green bouquet of the dead, celebrating life. Cemeteries are one of Foucault’s main examples of heterotopias and he explains how in Western society the cemetery used to be at the heart of the town, but today it has been moved to the outskirts to form an alternative town, of the dead. The cemetery that is now next to Futeco, use to be on the outskirts, but with Futeco moving to the outskirts, life is encroaching upon death! Bringing youthful liveliness into reflective contact with those that learnt and played before us. An aerial picture shows three layers of vegetation: the disturbed areas of normal Manica life, the somewhat conserved area of Futeco (after year 4) and the rich forest of the cemetery in the near background. Futeco inherited, unintentionally, a significant and profound neighbour and the actual presence of the cemetery might be worth more that many pages of life-skills curriculum.

In post-graduate studies you will come across a few words that basically mean the same thing: dichotomy, binary or dualism, all of which refers to mans cheap tendency to understand things and sound clever through simplistic comparison. The lazy mind loves these dichotomies. Heaven and hell, teacher and student, city and nature, hunter and hunted, poor and rich, stupid and smart, Europe and Africa, black and white, male and female, and so it goes on. So, if you want to save yourself five years at university, simply learn that the truth is grey, that all things are interrelated and not isolated opposites. Search for relationships between things and don’t divide them. Development has consistently proven itself incapable of this transition, and due to the World Bank, USAid and the like insistence to ‘snap out of it’ we now sit with a field called ‘post development’. I understand that it is difficult to open your mind if you risk losing money, control and power. Most educated westerners are simply too scared to venture down a path of development that would firstly, require them to be developed and to unlearn all the quasi wisdom of technocrats. Development practitioners love boxes. A picture of before, a budget to fix that, a picture of the after, to prove that the money was not wasted- this is their heaven. Foucault’s concept of heterotopias illustrates the multiplicity of spaces and the contradictory nature of norms. Life loves to flow over the lines and out of the boxes, life is not only beautifully messy, but the unpredictability and contradictions is what makes life lively.

I could write Futeco and its people into a logframe, but it would be an injustice. I could brand the attempt to merge Futebol and Ecologia (Futeco) like Fifa does through Brazil 2014’s Fuleco, but it would plasticify something that has life in its veins. I could turn the multiplicity of Futeco into a list of objectives, but it will industrialise and rigidify something that is organic. I could organogram the shit out of the Human Resources involved, but it would insult what is currently family. I could build a model and blueprint out of the novel success of Futeco, but it would deny recipient communities a journey. I will not make a case for post development here, I believe the respective scholars does that sufficiently and better than I could, but I wonder why Esteva and Illich are not more prominent around the boardroom tables that discuss the lives of the so called poor. I know that deeper understanding and an appreciation of grey areas and interconnectedness across arbitrary lines does not fit in well with engineering style project management, and until those who give the money start to see the poor as their friends and family, the system will not change, because the money demands a certain style of management. The fact that that management style undermines true development is inconsequential because for these pawns that draw salaries in organisations funded by illiterate cash, money talks and bullshit walks. One can become a specialist to undermine your gut and supress your emotions, especially when a salary and all it buys depends on that. No one acts against their true beliefs, they just make sure their true beliefs do not venture down an inconvenient truth. How I wish there were more brilliant and critical minds like Foucault at work in the development world today. How I wish the experts had the same hunger and structures to learn and grow as those they try to implement for the poor.

Foucault was attracted with the idea and image of a boat, a house that can be home and simultaneously explore the globe, a place that is safe and dangerous, a place of belonging and imagination. To a degree, Futeco is a metaphorical boat for Manicans and their visitors to climb upon and discover back into history some harmony with nature, to travel to current expressions of health and enjoyment, to learn from journeys forward through dreams of a better life.

Notes:
(1) Pronounced miʃɛl fuko
(2) http://foucault.info/documents/heteroTopia/foucault.heteroTopia.en.html accessed 28 April 2013
(3) A project or expression of Grupo Desportivo de Manica (GDM), who is a community club that tries to do
development through sport. The site was established and name chosen in 2009.

note vegetation in front of the football field and the cemetery behind it
note vegetation in front of the football field and the cemetery behind it